Children with Learning Problems: Empowering Parents

A woman posted in a forum recently that, as a young graduate student, she wanted to learn more about how to better advocate and communicate with the parents of her students.  Those of us who have been in that position truly understand what a delicate dance it is to empower parents when their children present with learning problems.

Let me start with what I think is the core issue.  And that is…How can I effectively empower parents so that, over time, they become more effective in advocating for their kids?  Keep in mind that you will likely spend a small proportion of the child’s educational life as an advocate for them.  To be most effective, the focus should be on giving the parents the skills, tricks, know-how so they become the expert.

As an example, let me review the top three things I do with parents who come to me needing a diagnostic evaluation for their child.

  1. During the initial consult, not only do I listen carefully to the content I need, I also listen to what their experience has been as they’ve tried to navigate the system and get their child’s needs met.  We want to know how well they’ve mapped out their process.  I also want to make sure that, by the end of the first touch, they feel a sense of relief that someone is listening and that they’ve got someone they can lean on and learn from.
  2. Parents often don’t have a map of where they need to go and what they     need to do.  Take the time, even if it takes repetition over and over, to explain and predict what is coming next in the process—whether it’s the testing process, the IEP process, setting up other evals—whatever it is give them a sense of prediction and control.  Remember that when someone is in a highly emotional state—whether it’s fear, anger, sadness, etc.—their decision-making can be negatively impacted.  Be kind, for goodness sake, but also be competent.  Understand that the beautiful child that they brought into this world is suffering and oftentimes has been for years.
  3. Most importantly, remember that parents need to be educated about how their children’s brains are wired and how that informs their behavior and learning styles both good and not-so-good.  I almost always recommend a couple of books, articles, videos, etc.  THIS IS TRULY THE CRUX OF THE ISSUE.  Long after you are gone, these moms and dads are going to have to continue to advocate.  Just as importantly, the parents need to educated about how their OWN brains are wired!

Recommended Reading:

www.allkindsofminds.org

Educational Care:  A System for Understanding and Helping Children with Learning Problems at Home and in School.  Mel Levine, MD.  1994  Educators Publishing Service, Inc.

Note:  This book is easily available online at Amazon, Alibris, etc.

There is so much more I need to say about this topic.  Clearly, I’ll need to break this discussion up into multiple posts.  Please stay tuned.  If you have questions, reach out to me at doctormichaelhart@gmail.com.

The DSM-V, SLD and Dyslexia: A Fascinating, Frustrating Disservice

The DSM-V Update Process

In a Facebook posting about two weeks ago, Julya Johnson (nee Shane) asked me to comment on the latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V) diagnostic criteria for Specific Learning Disability and the mysterious relegation of the word dyslexia to an “alternative term.”

It might make sense to start by explaining a bit about the process for updating the DSM-V.

Here are a few answers to questions about the development process verbatim from the American Psychiatric Association DSM Development Committee:  (italics in red are mine)

What was the process that led to the new manual?

The APA prepared for the revision of DSM for nearly a decade, with an unprecedented process of research evaluation that included a series of white papers and 13 scientific conferences supported by the National Institutes of Health. This preparation brought together almost 400 international scientists and produced a series of monographs and peer-reviewed journal articles.

The APA Board of Trustees, which approved the final criteria for DSM-5 on Dec. 1, 2014 appointed a Scientific Review Committee of mental health experts to review and provide guidance on the strength of evidence of proposed changes. The Scientific Review Committee evaluated the strength of the evidence based on a specific template of validators. In addition, a Clinical and Public Health Committee reviewed proposed revisions to address difficulties experienced with the clinical utility, consistency and public health impact of DSM-IV criteria.

Who was involved in the development process?

APA recruited more than 160 of the top researchers and clinicians from around the world to be members of our DSM-5 Task Force, Work Groups and Study Groups for this important job. These are experts in neuroscience, biology, genetics, statistics, epidemiology, social and behavioral sciences, nosology, and public health.  These members participate on a strictly voluntary basis and encompass several medical and mental health disciplines including psychiatry, psychology, pediatrics, nursing and social work.

How were decisions made about what would be included, removed, or changed?

APA’s goal in developing DSM-5 was to create an evidence-based manual that is useful to clinicians in helping them accurately diagnose mental disordersDecisions to include a diagnosis in DSM-5 were based on a careful consideration of the scientific advances in research underlying the disorder, as well as the collective clinical knowledge of experts in the field. Advances in the science of mental disorders have been dramatic in the past decades, and this new science was reviewed by task force and work group members to determine whether diagnoses needed to be removed or changed.

http://www.dsm5.org/about/pages/faq.aspx#3

My point in sharing the above information with you is this:  On the surface, it looks like the decision-making process for updating the DSM looks well-thought out and quite rigorous…and in many ways it is.

But for those of you who have participated in the academic world can you imagine using the consensus model with that many researchers and clinical professionals?

Do you think there might be some politics involved in the decision-making process?

Here’s another piece of the puzzle.  One of the stated goals for the new DSM edition, according to Dennis Charney et. al. (https://contextualscience.org/system/files/Kupfer,2002.pdf  Chapter 2)  is to work toward a more “etiologically-based diagnostic system” that would move the psychiatric world “into the mainstream of modern medicine where etiology and pathophysiology have replaced descriptive symptomatology as the fundamental basis for making diagnostic distinctions.”

For those of you who are allergic to terminology, etiology of something means the cause of something.  Pathophysiology simply refers to the idea that we can map the symptoms of a disorder to actual physical structures…like neural pathways in the brain and dyslexia.

So, in simpler terms, we want to move from just describing what we’re seeing in testing and observation of dyslexia to actually mapping the underlying issues in how a person’s brain is wired and how that impacts the development of reading, writing and spelling.

Which is what we’ve been doing for many years.

Fascination and Frustration

[Note:  In the next section, I’m going to quote heavily from Comments on Proposed DSM-5 Criteria for Specific Learning Disorder from a Legal and Medical/Scientific Perspective (http://dyslexia.yale.edu/CommentsDSM5ColkerShaywitzSimon.pdf ) If you do not have this article in your files, I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.  The authors include Ruth Colker, JD, Sally Shaywitz, MD, Bennett Shaywitz, MD and Jo Anne Simon, JD.]

As the Colker, et. al. article points out so elegantly, dyslexia is essentially the most well-described clinical phenomenon we have in the SLD category consequently the DSM committee actions are quite disturbing.

“Specifically, dyslexia is a well-described and long-standing entity that adheres to a well-specified medical model including, known neurobiology, pathophysiology, symptoms and developmental manifestations, treatment, and long term outcome. In contrast to the other domains included under SLD, dyslexia is not a feature but a well described disorder.

Further… “Given the advanced state of knowledge of its neurobiology and pathophysiology, dyslexia serves as a model for the identification of a learning disorder.” 

Nonetheless, in spite of over 100 years of discussion about dyslexia as a distinct clinical phenomenon, the criteria for Specific Learning Disorder relegates the term “dyslexia” to the following in the DSM V:

  • 00 (F81.0) With impairment in reading:
    • Word reading accuracy
    • Reading rate or fluency
    • Reading comprehension
    • Note: Dyslexia is an alternative term used to refer to a pattern of learning difficulties characterized by problems with accurate or fluent word recognition, poor decoding, and poor spelling abilities. If dyslexia is used to specify this particular pattern of difficulties, it is important also to specify any additional difficulties that are present, such as difficulties with reading comprehension or math reasoning.

It would be enough if the denial of the state of knowledge about dyslexia was the extent of the issue.  The disconnect between the stated goals of the DSM development team and the exclusion of acknowledgement of the actual scientific history of dyslexia is stunning and morbidly fascinating…much like a car wreck in the opposing lane.

Finally, one of the very last versions of the DSM V manual the diagnosis of dyslexia included a reference to requiring participation in RTI.

Herein lies the rub for those of us who already suffer needlessly by having to wait sometimes years before a proper evaluation is conducted to determine eligibility for services.

In spite of the final changes in the wording it is noteworthy that, after a 10 year process, attempts were made to insert a poorly executed intervention system into the diagnostic process.  The Colker, et. al. article played a key role in getting the language changed, in my opinion.  Again, if you haven’t read the article I strongly urge you to do so.  It is a great lesson in political manuevering. Suffice it to say, we all know that requiring RTI in lieu of a proper educational evaluation is in direct opposition to the IDEA.  It’s illegal.  But we also know that many school districts are attempting use RTI to replace the special education teams and processes in spite of the final changes in the wording of the diagnostic criteria. 

The Current Bottom Line

  • Colker, et. al. uses the word “inexplicable” to describe why the term dyslexia is subsumed in the SLD category as an alternative term. I don’t think it’s inexplicable at all.  In fact, I think it’s obviously a result of political maneuvering in the DSM update process IN SPITE of massive amounts of peer-reviewed data confirming that dyslexia research strongly reflects the presumed goal of using an “etiologically-based” system for diagnosing SLD.
  • RTI (or the concept of classroom intervention) is not evil in and of itself. The process/strategy is being misused in order to avoid proper evaluation of our kids.
  • RTI (or any other classroom intervention approach) also does not “cover the waterfront” regarding the identification of learning disabilities. As we know, intensive intervention is not offered in later grades (including college) where many of our students are first identified with dyslexia.
  • The research, as well as my own clinical anecdotal experience, clearly indicate that there is no nationally accepted standard of implementation for RTI, that the RTI process/protocol is not implemented consistently and staff training for the implementation of the program is inconsistent at best.

Ultimately, though, as our understanding of the complexities of the neurological underpinnings of dyslexia grows (Double Deficit anyone?), the idea of using a blunt instrument like RTI or any other classroom intervention in lieu of a proper evaluation to “diagnose” dyslexia is absurd.  As Martha Denckla, Sally Shaywitz, Louisa Moats, Maryanne Wolf and countless others will tell you, each of our kids’ brains are unique.  We have a responsibility as parents, specialists and educators to appreciate, understand and integrate what we’re learning in the research into our daily decision-making about our kids and their needs. 

In my opinion, the DSM V committee members blew it…and in a very ham-handed fashion.  The whole dynamic of Dyslexia Denial is fascinating, painful and ultimately sad.  And yet we need to keep working…we’ve never had the momentum we have now.  Let’s use it.

Kids need us.  Parents need us.  And teachers need us too.  Never give up.

Hyperlexia and Dyslexia: Phonologically Two Sides to the Same Coin?

Hyperlexia and Dyslexia:  Phonologically Two Sides to the Same Coin?

Julya Shane, my friend from Decoding Dyslexia Tennessee and Learning Ally, asked me to write a bit about hyperlexia, whether there is a connection with dyslexia and whether/how hyperlexia is referenced in IDEA…SLD?  Fall under OHI?  SLP?

So…here we go.

What is Hyperlexia? 

Darold Treffert, MD, has been studying people with Autistic Spectrum Disorder for over 50 years.  In his 2013 guest blog in Scientific American, he describes three types of hyperlexia.  See blog post here:  http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/mind-guest-blog/oops-when-autism-isnt-autistic-disorder-hyperlexia-and-einstein-syndrome/

Hyperlexia Type 1:  This type refers to the really bright kids who are considered “neurotypical” (that is, normal!) who simply learn to read and comprehend what they’re reading really early in life, e.g., nursery school.  According to Dr. Treffert, oftentimes these kids’ peers would ultimately catch up with the precocious reader and the hyper-reading capabilities relative to their peers tend to recede into memory.

Hyperlexia Type 2:  These children are what I think most of us assume regarding kids on the autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) who exhibit hyperlexia.  The hyperlexia part is considered a savant-like “splinter skill.”  The really defining feature is that while the child may be an incredibly voracious reader with an amazing memory, their comprehension of what they read is very poor.  The comprehension weakness is related to one of the cardinal characteristics of ASD which is the great difficulty with understanding and mastering social communication both in terms of receptive language and expressive language.  Just think in terms of the hyperlexia as being “in the midst” of all of the characteristic symptoms seen in ASD kids.

Hyperlexia Type 3:  This type refers to a somewhat rare form of hyperlexia that is seen in combination with “autistic-like” symptoms that dissipate or fade in time as the person matures.  You may see other precocious behaviors as well as reading very early or perhaps really intense sensory sensitivity (e.g., to sounds, touch or taste).  You may also see the fascination and insistence on routine and significant resistance to change but, unlike most ASD kids, the Type 3 kids do seek affection and are comfortable with eye contact.  In other words, clinicians are at risk for falsely identifying these children as falling within the ASD diagnosis when actually they do not.  As you can imagine, this has a profound psychological and emotional impact on the child and their family…First, negatively as they adjust to the idea that their child fits ASD criteria;  then huge relief when the ASD-type symptoms decrease or resolve over time.

Is there a connection between hyperlexia and dyslexia?

Yes…in the sense that they appear to be two sides to the same neurological “coin.”

As many of you know, I am a huge fan of the fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) strategy that neuroscientists are now using to map actual brain activity while people are engaged in a cognitive task like reading.

Without our ability to actually map brain activity in real time, we really are only able to hypothesize (make and test assumptions) about what is truly driving our profile of our learning strengths and weaknesses.

Thanks to Sally Shaywitz and many others, we’ve made great strides in the last 20 years regarding mapping the differences in brain activity between nondyslexic readers and dyslexic readers and phonological processing.  We’re also able to discuss these differences in terms of not only the gray matter or actual brain structures but also in terms of the white matter or neural pathways between the various brain structures.

We are still in the early stages of mapping the brain activity of those people who struggle with the cognitive processing difficulties reflected in rapid automatic naming weaknesses but Maryanne Wolf, Elizabeth Norton and others are making good progress.  See http://bit.ly/1EQzWcq

We are even earlier in the process for using fMRI technology to map brain activity for those who exhibit hyperlexia BUT I was able to find an article describing the results of one of the first studies conducted in this area.  (Actually, the article was easy to find on Google!  http://bit.ly/1KVTdNm )

Here is the actual summary quoted from the Turketaub, et. al. study:

“Using fMRI, we examined the neural basis of reading hyperlexia in a 9 year old boy.  During covert reading he was found to engage left hemisphere phonological decoding systems as well as right hemisphere visual form recognition systems to a greater degree than chronological age- and reading age-matched controls.  In contrast to the prevailing single hemisphere theories of hyperlexia, these finindg indicate that hyperlexic reading is brought about by simultaneously drawing on both left hemisphere phonological and right hemisphere visual systems.  These finding demonstrate for the first time that precocious reading is associated with hyperactivation of left posterior superior temporal cortex, just as impaired reading in dyslexia is associated with hypoactivation of regions surrounding the posterior superior temporal cortex.  Continued study of brain function in hyperlexia may reveal alternative mechanisms for reading remediation for children with developmental disorders of cognition.”

First, for those of you who are relatively new to brain science, please don’t over-organize around the complex jargon regarding specific parts of the brain if it’s going to distract you.

The bottom line is this:  For some reason, kids with hyperlexia show increased and intense activation of the brain in parts of the left hemisphere in the same area where dyslexics show decreased activation of the same part of the left hemisphere. 

Two sides of the same coin.

Of course, we have to be cautious with our interpretation because this study is the first of its kind and the number of subjects in the study is just one child.  Nonetheless, I think it’s a helpful start.

Is hyperlexia discussed in IDEA?  What about as an SLD?  Other Health Impaired?  Speech and language disorder? 

After reading the above, I would suspect that you are coming to realize that hyperlexia (Type 2 and to some degree Type 3) in and of itself is not considered a deficit.  Importantly, the lack of comprehension for our hyperlexic readers actually reflects a deeper issue (and treatment focus) with the cardinal characteristics of ASD noted above…Namely, deficits in understanding social communication and the pragmatics (understanding social nuance) of language in general.  As such, hyperlexia is not noted as a specific learning disability, speech and language disorder (in and of itself) nor does the phenomenon qualify under Other Health Impaired (OHI).

Here’s an example re: OHI:

According to federal regulations:

“Other health impairment means having limited strength, vitality or alertness, including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli, that results in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment, that—(i) Is due to chronic or acute health problems such as asthma, attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, epilepsy, a heart condition, hemophilia, lead poisoning, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, and sickle cell anemia; and (ii) Adversely affects a child’s educational performance.”  (34 Code of Federal Regulations § 300.7(c)(9) (hereinafter C.F.R.)

Can you see the disconnect?  Hyperlexia may illuminate the underlying language issues with ASD but it is not the core issue.  In fact, autism researchers and practitioners hope to use a child’s hyperlexia as another avenue to try to engage them socially and emotionally through their strength of reading where normal avenues of social and language engagement are moderately to severely impaired in the ASD population .

As mentioned above, more work is needed.  Further brain research will strengthen our overall understanding regarding how our brains are wired and should hopefully reduce the confusion and arguments regarding what is real and how conditions like dyslexia should be treated.

Needless suffering has gone on far too long.  Let’s all work on understanding how our brains are actually wired and how we can then effectively treat our kids.

Why I’m Doing a Webinar on the CELF-5! What?

 

WHY DO A WEBINAR ON THE CELF-5 AND DYSLEXIA?

My wife asked me the other day why I’m doing a webinar on the seemingly esoteric topic of interpreting the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals-Fifth Edition (CELF-5).  Great question.  On the surface it looks like I’m getting too far “into the weeds” for my audience.  But I’m really not.  I promise.

The understanding and interpretation of language processing scores in a properly conducted dyslexia evaluation is the absolute cornerstone for building your remediation map for your dyslexic child or student.  So in order to become the most effective advocate for your child or student, you’ve got to dive in.  

The CELF-5 is one of the very best tests to help us measure certain key components of language processing:  receptive language (the ability to understand what they’re hearing or reading), expressive language (the ability to express yourself in words) and pragmatics (the ability to communicate and understand language within a social context).  It’s not the only test but it’s a good one and important for you to know.

Click here now for information and registration!

GETTING COMFORTABLE

For a lot of people the initial effort in understanding test scores and how to interpret them feels a bit overwhelming or even intimidating.  I’m here to help you realize that this needn’t be the case.  Let’s end this needless suffering.

Far too often, many of us don’t get the proper support to truly understand what those crazy scores mean and how to use them to build our remediation map…particularly with regard to language processing which we all know now is the key issue in dyslexia!

 As parents, we often wait and wait and wait for the “Holy Grail” evaluation to finally be completed only to find that the right testing wasn’t done (because you weren’t sure what to ask for) or you’re handed a 35 (or more)  page report with all kinds of jargon and scores but no comprehensive consultation regarding what those scores mean and how to put them all together.

As professionals, we often don’t get the proper training or professional support during our university programs or professional development offerings to know what we’re seeing.

 TAKING IT STEP BY STEP!

The way to master test interpretation and remediation mapping is to take it step by step…Bite-size chunks at at time.  Then, over time, we will be able to put all the pieces together.  Most importantly, we’ll be able to directly translate the meaning of those scores into specific goals for remediation.

 So, since understanding how your dyslexic child’s brain is wired for language processing is absolutely key…I’m starting this webinar series with one of the best tests…the CELF-5…and we’ll build from there.

Once you get comfortable with the idea of it, you come to realize that grappling with the meaning of psychological or educational test scores for dyslexia is not rocket science.  You can become an expert–for your own child or student.  I promise.

Click here now for information and registration!

 COMING SOON:

  • Next Webinar:  The Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing (CTOPP)
    • Thursday, April 30, 2015 
    • 3pm PT/5pm CT/6pm ET

 Stay tuned!  

 

Meet the Orton Gillingham Online Academy!

It gives me great pleasure to share with you a little bit about my new partner, Marisa Bernard, founder and principal of the Orton Gillingham Online Academy.  I feel incredibly fortunate to have met her.

Marisa is the personification of best practices in our field.  Yes, of course, she teaches the Orton Gillingham method which we all know is the gold standard for treating our kids with dyslexia.  Above and beyond that, though, Marisa also provides an incredible amount of support to her students in terms of the ancillary materials she offers in her training as well as ongoing personal contact AFTER training is completed.  She has great ethics and a very big heart.

It is my goal in 2015 to partner with others who have skill sets that I do not necessarily have as an expert in dyslexia. I certainly feel lucky to team up with Marisa as she complements us well.

I hope you enjoy the following interview with Marisa Bernard about her background and what she offers at the Orton Gillingham Online Academy!

Welcome Marisa!

Thank-you so much for spreading the word about our academy. It truly is an exciting time for us to have the capacity to reach people from all around the world & to work toward eradicating illiteracy!  

–Marisa Bernard

 

Here is a synopsis of Marisa’s professional background & experiences

Marisa is a dynamic educator with several years of successful teaching experience. She has been married for 28 years and has raised her 2 adult children. She has her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology with a focus in Cognition & Learning and has her Master’s Degree in Special Education. She is also a highly qualified Elementary Education Teacher as well as a Reading Specialist. She has worked on staff at the Dyslexia Institute of Indiana as both an educator and trainer of the Orton Gillingham Approach. She has also taught Special Education in a public school setting and has remediated countless numbers of students on grade level by using research based strategies such as the Orton Gillingham Approach. Marisa is a professional member of the International Dyslexia Association. Marisa received a grant through the Lilly Foundation & traveled to the highlands of Ecuador to teach English, using the Orton Gillingham Approach, to the indigenous children. She also learned organic farming from her host family & brought this knowledge back to her home school to begin a school wide organic garden for the special needs students to cultivate & maintain. Marisa also travelled to New York City the summer of 2009 to volunteer at New Life Fellowship Church in Queens. While there, she assisted with their summer children’s educational program & food drive. Marisa & her husband have welcomed many homeless & downtrodden adolescents into their home. Marisa makes it her mission to assist children who do not fit inside the conventional box and to send them on their way feeling productive, successful, & well-equipped to lead a fruitful life.

Orton Gillingham Online Academy Mission and Goals Statement

The Orton Gillingham Online Academy Mission Statement: We believe that all people have the right to reach their full potential. The Orton Gillingham Online Academy (OGOA) exists to serve children, adolescents, and adults with Dyslexia and Specific Learning/Language Disabilities (SLD). The Orton Gillingham Online Academy offers parents and teachers resources to assist with teaching our English language. We are dedicated and committed to present to tools that will enhance the teaching/learning venue. It is our goal to maintain a standard of excellence for the practice of the Orton Gillingham Approach.  We make it our mission to reach students all across the globe.

Professional development opportunities

As parents and educators, it is important to have the skill sets necessary to appropriately teach our children. Meeting specific academic needs has never been more challenging than it is today. As more and more disabilities are being identified and inclusion is the wave of the present and future classrooms, educators are faced with the dilemma of differentiating the instruction to meet the needs of all the diverse learners. We are more than ever attending seminars and reaching out to the experts for tips and tidbits of information that will assist us with accommodating the educational needs in our classrooms and in our homes. We are very excited to offer you Orton Gillingham Training and Webinars from experts that are affordable and available in the comfort of your own home. As parents and educators, we understand that time constraint is the number one issue we face when teaching our children. There never seems to be enough time; therefore, to add conferences, seminars, and various training opportunities to our plate is not always a feasible or desirable option. The online venue is an appealing choice for the busy parent and educator.

Additional resources above and beyond the training modules

The Orton Gillingham Online Academy’s resources are embedded in our website to better service you. Just as a “cookie cutter” education system is not best for our students with Dyslexia, or Specific Learning/Language Disability (SLD), relying on a single source for answers and solutions is not best practice. From Classroom Tidbit Videos, a Prepared Orton Gillingham Lesson Plan Package, to Helpful Apps, we make it our mission to present to you from an array of the finest, most current, and relevant information to most effectively address educational needs.

The best way for people to reach Marisa Bernard

Please contact Marisa directly at ogonlineacademy@gmail.com.

Thanks again to Marisa for making time to participate in this interview.  I’m looking forward to our future work!

Please share this interview with your network!

Pounding Away at Your School: What Do You Do When Your Cup Runneth Empty?

We all have a finite cup of resources when advocating for our children.  For many of us, it’s financial, but sometimes it’s emotional…We get so intensely focused on the fact that our schools should be experts and take proper care of our children that our laser focus distracts us from the bigger picture.  And we deplete ourselves.

We’ve got to remember that we are going to build a “village” for our kids that will encompass more than just your local school.

We have to be open and honest about what the schools are really going to be able to do even if you win an IEP battle or court case.  Remember…

Three out of four elementary teacher preparation programs still are not teaching the methods of reading instruction that could substantially lower the number of children who never become proficient readers.  Virtually no secondary school preparation programs include curricula about reading and written language instruction in spite of the fact that dyslexia is a life-long issue. [Read more]

Many good people in our schools haven’t been given the proper education, training and experience to effectively support our dyslexic child’s educational needs.  That’s not their fault but it is our reality.

There are times when exhausting that cup of resources on forcing a school system to do something they can’t runs counter to your primary goal which is to give your child a safe, happy environment in which to grow.

I was working with a family today that had reached the point of complete exhaustion and exasperation in their efforts to get their daughter’s school to provide adequate academic support for her severe dyslexia.  They gave up…and I supported their position.
I did what?

They had already come to the precipice of deciding to try cobbling together a homeschooling program for her…I just helped them get over the hump on the idea.  They had tried homeschooling before but it was hard for mom to be teacher too.  It didn’t work so well and they returned her to the public schools. She’s now in 6th grade and she still can’t read beyond the second grade level.

This little girl is never going to shine in an academic environment AND she is a bright, delightful child who loves being with her family and friends.  It happens that our little friend is a tomboy and her real passion is camping and fishing.  She struggles mightily with generating two sentences about an academic topic but get her going on lake fishing and she will not stop.

Mom and dad have done a brilliant job putting together a program for her upcoming year.  They’ve got a retired language arts teacher who is trained in Orton Gillingham working with her daily…They’re using a homeschooling curriculum they found online that will give them a foundation for organizing resources for other content areas.  Most importantly, they’ve freed their daughter up to spend more time fishing and camping.  In fact, they found a mentor in the forestry department to take her under his wing for “special projects.”

Please know that I’m fully and completely committed to overhauling the public school systems in the US when it comes to treating our dyslexic kids. The school system is broken and it will be for many more years.  We’re working on it but we have a long way to go.  So, in the meantime, we have to decide whether Plan B is best for our kids.

I’m also super aware of what it means for a child to feel safe and properly nurtured.

So in the interim, what makes the most sense for your child?  Traditional education where your child is getting pummeled every day or some sort of creative plan that gives the kid a place to shine.

Not every child should be homeschooled…and the above program isn’t right for everybody.  But, I wanted to jostle you a bit and ask you to remember that we’re going to have to get creative in creating our village because the schools oftentimes can’t…yet.

Remember to use that cup of resources any way you need to so that your child knows we’re going to help them find a place to shine!

For the Kids,
Michael Hart

Fear and Loathing: Another New School Year!

Here we are in another school year and all the attendant sleepless nights, angst, anger, fear, sense of helplessness…It’s already been terrifying for many folks.

So, how do we best prepare for the expected unexpected snafus?  By being proactive.

Remember that one of the principal tenets of my program Your Child Restored:  From Suffering to Success is this…

PARENTS OR PRIMARY CAREGIVERS are always going to be the most powerful and effective advocate for THEIR child.  NO ONE…Not your child’s teacher, or guidance counselor, or principal or therapist will be more effective than YOU.  You may not feel that way in the beginning but you can get there.  It’s important to remember that this is a process…a marathon, not a sprint.  But you’ll get there…and so will your child.  This is not to say that there is not a role for educational consultants.  We can be very helpful but in the long run we often come and go over the years.  We are most effective serving as anchors or guides during the critical moments when you need us.  And we are most effective when we guide your self-directed education.  It’s the old “Teach a man to fish and he eats forever” model.

When it comes to getting your child ready for a new school year, there are a number of things you can do.

First, as my friend Julya Shane suggested to a parent this morning, schedule a parent-teacher conference ASAP.  The teachers are usually around for several days before the year starts…Catch them early and catch them often.  And be sure to go in with collaboration in mind.  Let the teacher know that you want to support him/her in understanding your child…That’s a good thing.  If you go in with guns blazing, you’ll lose them.  Please know that this is sometimes extremely hard to do…but it’s in the best interest of your child.  Be fearless, be relentless but be kind.

Learning Ally has several different tools and services for you as well.  Search for their LA ChildProfile template.  It’s great template for writing a letter to your child’s new teacher so they get ahead of the curve in knowing your child.  And make sure the teacher gets a copy of your child’s IEP or 504 plan.

 Also, any member parent can sign up for a 30-minute consultation with Learning Ally’s Parent Support Specialists.  Check them out.  Lots of good stuff.

 When I talk about classroom management, I tell teachers that we cannot afford to assume that children will enter your classroom socially and emotionally available to learn.  That’s just the way it is.

 Conversely, parents cannot afford to presume that our teachers have received the support they need to be fully capable of understanding your child’s needs.  Consequently, you must take charge and make it happen proactively and collaboratively.

 Again–You are the most powerful advocate in your child’s life.  Embrace it and sleep will come just a little easier this year.

Go for it!

The Double Deficit Hypothesis: This Just In

There is a really great new article out about the neuroscience behind Double Deficit Dyslexia.  Here’s the link for the article through ScienceDirect.

 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0028393214001961

 The title of the article is Functional neuroanatomical evidence for the double-deficit hypothesis of developmental dyslexia.  Elizabeth Norton from MIT is the lead author.  I don’t know her but the writing, while not an easy cruise, is so beautifully elegant.  I aspire.  I aspire.

 I urge you to read it all yourself but here’s the short of it–with my editorial comments.

 We’re in the early stages of parsing out the neurological underpinnings for dyslexia particularly with regard to rapid automatic naming (RAN) but, with time, we’re going to be able to MAP cognitive processing to remediation.

 We’re going to MAP cognitive processing to remediation...That is truly extraordinary and will ultimately serve as a great gift to our dyslexic kids.

 My excitement is blunted somewhat by Martha Denckla’s voice in the back of my head saying “Remember…every brain is different.”  Nonetheless, there is enough commonality that I find this stuff exciting.

 Okay…Here’s the short of it:

  1.  The study suggests that “children with a double deficit have the greatest reduction in brain activation in regions important for both rapid naming skills and phonological awareness, even when compared to children who have single deficits.”
  2.  Most importantly, “these findings have implications both for the design and future neuroimaging studies and also for the design of assessment batteries, diagnostic criteria and educational interventions, as children meeting different criteria for reading impairment also show differential brain activation and behavioral profiles.
  3.  There were some limitations to the study, including sample size (too small).  But overall I’d say that this study put one more brick in the road to understanding how our kids’ brains are wired and how to best take care of them.

It heartens me the more we include RAN in the discussion about the cause of dyslexia.  It took us many decades for the general population to get up to speed regarding the role of phonological awareness and dyslexia.  We’re making progress there.

Martha Denckla has been conducting research regarding RAN and dyslexia since the 1970’s.  Maryanne Wolf has also been heating up the research in this area since the 1990’s.

Now, with access to the Internet and social media we can collapse the lapse, so to speak, in educating the general population about what we’re learning in the research.

 So, to that effort, please take the time to read this study and pass it on!

 

When the School Says No…How to Get the Yes! IEP Success w/ Vaughn Lauer

Click here to listen to the full exclusive interview with Vaughn Lauer!

From Suffering to Success: Lisa Rose’s You’ve Got Verve Jamie Ireland!

Click here to listen to the full exclusive interview with Lisa Rose!